Letter: Britain must not rush into PR system

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Sir: Donald Macintyre, in "A good time to help Ashdown and start on PR" (23 May), overlooks the key point that there is a multitude of different proportional representation voting systems in use world-wide, and many even within the European Union. The work of the Boundary Commission in drawing up new European constituencies for 1999, based on groups of the recently revised House of Commons seats, is now well advanced; unless we were to adopt one specific PR system without prior public debate and consultation, it is hard to see how such a fundamental change could be introduced in time.

The impression is sometimes given that PR is a brand new idea, when in reality it has been around a long time and a number of countries that originally adopted a PR voting system have subsequently reverted, at least partially, to first-past-the-post elections. Like a great many people I believe we should be very cautious before we abandon the traditional link between an elected member and an individual constituency, in any type of election. The constituency link ensures everyone has "their own" MP and imposes on elected members a degree of commitment and accountability to the electorate that most forms of PR do not, and that party list systems certainly fail to do.

The Labour Party has made a manifesto commitment to conduct a referendum on whether people in Britain want a change to a PR form of voting and to precede this by setting up an independent Electoral Commission to advise on alternative systems to our present one. This fair and reasonable approach should apply not only to the House of Commons, but to the European Parliament and local councils as well. If we avoid rushing into a possibly unwise form of PR for the European elections in 1999, then it could be introduced, after thorough preparation, for the elections in 2004.


(London West, Lab)

London W13